If you have an iPod and far fewer songs than the gigabytes of storage space you have available, then you’ve probably asked one of the most popular questions: “how can I load my iPod up with free music?”

There are at least two answers to this question, one generally illegal, and one generally legal. You’ve probably already heard about the illegal free music options, but just in case you haven’t, we’ll run through the reasons you’ll want to skip them and use the legal free music sites instead.

Illegal Free Music: Downloads with Consequences

Several years ago, the sheer quantity of open challenges to American copyright law created a popular perception that music - old and new alike - was supposed to be free, and “shared” between friends and strangers alike. Upon release of just about any new album (and sometimes even before), full MP3-format tracks appeared on music-sharing services such as Napster and Kazaa, spreading around the world without restriction. Many recording artists were angered by what they felt was mass theft of their music, while others either ignored or embraced the file-sharing.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) decided to fight the “music is free” movement, undertaking highly publicized lawsuits on behalf of artists it represented. Services such as Napster were sued for billions of dollars as facilitators of copyright infringement, and either driven out of business or forced into retreat. Subsequently, RIAA lawsuits against individuals shut down large resources of “shared” music, and warned others that swapping smaller quantities of copyrighted content could subject them to similar legal action.

RIAA lawsuits haven’t stopped the trading of copyrighted music online, but they’ve turned file-sharing into a game of Russian Roulette. For obvious reasons, we does not recommend the sharing or downloading of “free” music from file-sharing services unless you know for sure that the artist has specifically given permission for that music to be shared.

Downloading Free Music Without Fear

With so many questions regarding the legality of international and domestic music downloads - questions which in accordance with the RIAA’s litigation strategy have created a blanket presumption of downloading fear that may not be entirely justified - there are only a handful of major free music download sites that guarantee that users are not breaking any laws. The best we’ve seen are listed below.

Firstly, there is the iTunes Store itself, which frequently offers free promotional tracks as part of various albums, and a new free track-of-the-week is offered up each week.  The iTunes Store itself provides a Free on iTunes page with highlighted free content.

Another site, http://www.itsfreedownloads.com also maintains a regular blog of links to free content on various International iTunes Stores.  While not all content remains perpetually free, sometimes older posts can yield links to content that is still available but has otherwise disappeared from the iTunes Store’s own promotional pages.

3hive.com: A great blog-style listing of free iPod-compatible songs offered by record artists and labels in an attempt to entice full-album purchases. Songs are in the MP3 format in a variety of bit-rates generally ranging between 128kbps and 192kbps.

Epitonic.com: Offers highly professional, artist-focused presentation of free digital music downloads in MP3 format, with biographical details and short previews for songs across a narrow collection of genres.

Macidol.com - You will find no illegal music here. Free music for iPod from independant Mac musicians. Free iPod downloads for you to feed your iPod music collection and playlists. Help discover some of the coolest new music.

Garageband.com: Not to be confused with Apple’s music creation application of the same name, Garageband.com collects and provides popularity charts of independent music, featuring over 125,000 bands.

MFiles.co.uk: Provides free downloads of well-known classical music in MP3 format.

Music.download.com: The music-dedicated expansion of popular software download site Download.com offers free full-length MP3 songs across all major genres, even including Children’s, Spoken Word, Comedy, Folk and Religious tracks. Most tracks are indie.

PureVolume: Offers over 100,000 free songs for download, and captured many of the best users of what used to be MP3.com (before it was scrapped, sold, and completely changed).

Of course, if you can’t find the song you’re looking for on one of these free sites, you can always visit Apple’s iTunes Store or Amazon’s MP3 Store and make a purchase there. Though these aren’t as cheap as some of the questionable international sites listed in the prior section, they are an entirely safe and legal way to get access to over a million songs.

Free iTunes Music from Starbucks

The program started out at Starbucks as a temporary one. It origianlly began as an attempt to promote the new partnership with Apple and its WI-FI music store. Starbucks was slated in October of 2007 to hand out 50 million Itunes between October 2nd, and November 7th, 2007. The program was so popular it ran until early 2008, when Starbucks extended the offer indefinately. They continued the program on April 15, 2008, announcing what they called their "Pick of the Week. " program. The offer for free Itunes is at all of Starbukcs stores in the United States.

Every week, a new iTunes option is posted on a wallet card. The previous week's song is also available. Monday morning of every week, a new Itunes complementary download card is offered. The card comes complete with the songs title, the singer or groups name, the album it comes from, and on the back of the card is the unique download code. I have downloaded many of the iTunes over the past few months, and I downloaded the latest iTunes free offer, and it worked like a charm. When going to the iTunes site, there is a section to list any code you might have.

If you want to extract audio from DVD concerts or videos to your iPod, you may download free trial version of DVD to iPod Converter for Mac or iPod Video Converter for Mac.